News / Asia

Pakistan Governor’s Assassination Underscores Societal Chasm

Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, center, surrounded by officials and members of his government, offers a prayer during the funeral procession of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.
Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, center, surrounded by officials and members of his government, offers a prayer during the funeral procession of Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer in Lahore, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.

Multimedia

Audio

The killing of the governor of Pakistan's most populous province has highlighted the ongoing clash in Pakistani society between secularism and religious radicalism.  Some of that radicalism is fueled by resentment against a privileged and often secular-minded elite who govern the country.

Severe polarization

The death of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, allegedly at the hands of one of his own bodyguards, has underscored what journalist Ahmad Rashid called a “very, very severe polarization” in Pakistan.

Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer speaks to the media in Islamabad (File Photo - 28 Mar 2009)
Governor of Punjab province Salman Taseer speaks to the media in Islamabad (File Photo - 28 Mar 2009)

On one side, say analysts, is what is believed to be a comparatively small but vocal and determined group of Islamic radicals, some of them extreme to the point of violence.  At the other is a liberal and, to varying degrees, secular elite. And caught in the middle is the average Pakistani who is buffeted by economic and political uncertainty.

Analyst Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation says Pakistan’s founding father, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, envisioned a multiethnic, multireligious society with Islam as a unifying force.  But she says events have caused the country to drift further towards extremism.

"It’s been events over the past 30 years, like the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Islamization policies of General Zia ul-Haq during the 1980s, which has really strengthened the Islamist forces and the more puritanical sects in Pakistan over the more traditional and moderate Sunni sects," said Curtis.

That strength has not translated into popular votes.  When Pakistan has had free and fair elections, the religious parties have fared poorly, picking up only a sliver of seats.  But analysts say their power is in the street, not in the ballot box.

Political power in Pakistan has usually rested with an educated, liberal, and often wealthy elite - at least when the country was not under military rule. With his push to roll back the country’s blasphemy laws, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer epitomized what radicals view as an alarming secular drift in Pakistan.  Kamran Bokhari of the private intelligence firm, Stratfor, says radicals try to capitalize on that resentment against the governing class, as well as deepening economic woes, as a recruiting tool.

Protests in Multan, Pakistan, over the murder of Pakistan's Punjab province's governor Salman Taseer, 05 Jan 2011.
Protests in Multan, Pakistan, over the murder of Pakistan's Punjab province's governor Salman Taseer, 05 Jan 2011.



"Islamist militancy is able to nurture in this country because of that sentiment, because of that idea, this notion that somehow the ruling elite is going to tamper with religion as they know it and is working with the West to do that," said Bokhari.  "So this perception can drive a lot of people. And I can understand the motivation of this individual [the assassin]."

Roots of resentment

But, expressing her own views, Professor Hayat Alvi of the U.S. Naval War College says Pakistanis’ resentment of the government is not over religion, but over the basic issues of daily survival.

"When we had the floods in Pakistan, the devastating floods, a few months ago, it wasn’t religion that the poor were complaining about and secular government ruling them," said Alvi.  "It was that they didn’t get any relief from government emergency forces to give them food, water, and the basic necessities as victims of a major natural disaster.  So at the end of the day, it’s bread, the issue of bread and butter and basic necessities."

Analysts say extremists have penetrated some elements of the government, especially the security agencies.  Some officers of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate have been accused by officials of several governments of backing the Afghan Taliban and anti-Indian extremist groups.

Government's attitute

The alleged killer of Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, being brought to a court in Islamabad, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.
The alleged killer of Governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, being brought to a court in Islamabad, Pakistan, 05 Jan 2011.

Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation says the government sends mixed signals when some radical groups are allowed to operate unmolested by security forces.

"Unfortunately, when you have confusion at the official level in terms of groups that are conducting terrorist attacks in India - for example, the Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is allowed to function in society - and are not prosecuted, when the government is not cracking down on these extremist groups, unfortunately, I think, it emboldens the groups and it sends a signal that they’re beyond punishment or they’re beyond the law," said Curtis.

Questions have already been raised in the Taseer killing.  The alleged assassin, Mumtaz Qadri, said he killed the governor because he was a “blasphemer.”  There is as yet no evidence of a wider conspiracy, but analysts have pointed out that Qadri was able to enlist in the Elite Force of the Punjab police and join the governor’s protection squad despite reported warnings about his extreme religious views.  Pakistani officials say Qadri pumped more than 20 bullets into the governor.  No members of the security detail returned fire.

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid